EspañolAs Venezuela’s government officially gave days off to public sectors workers, who now work only on Monday and Tuesday mornings, citizens turned to the streets in order to collect the signatures necessary to hold a recall referendum against Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, Hugo Chávez’s clumsy successor.
The country is paralyzed. Power blackouts are the norm. Food is difficult to find, as are medicines and vaccines. Factories are being shut down and looting is ever more frequent. Chaos and anarchy rule in a nation that, until recently, was the richest and most advanced in Latin America. In the best of cases, it will take several decades for the bankrupt country to recover the mere chance to meet its potential.
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How did Venezuela reach its current state of demise? Without a doubt, Hugo Chávez and his socialist policies bear direct responsibility for the country’s current problems. Chavista rule not only decimated Venezuela’s immense oil revenues during a decade of rising crude prices; the former president and his cronies also destroyed the institutions which Venezuelans had slowly built since the middle of the 20th century.
In a less apparent way, however, Venezuelan citizens are also to blame. In the first place, large portions of the middle class became infatuated with a military strongman who rose to prominence by leading a failed coup-d’état in 1992. In the 1999 elections, 56 percent of citizens elected Chávez as president.
As if this was not enough, the citizenry continued to support Chávez as he changed the political order by means of a constitutional assembly. This is how he came to control not only the executive branch, but also the legislative and judicial powers as well as the electoral authority and all other republican institutions.
Above all, a majority of citizens failed to actively back the peaceful military movement that demanded the caudillo‘s resignation in 2002. Most preferred other alternatives — within Chávez’s own legal framework — in their attempts to oust the government.
The Opposition’s Weakness
In my view, this fundamental weakness explains the opposition’s feeble attempts to resist Chávez’s authoritarianism. Opposition leaders naïvely waited for Chavistas to surrender power peacefully by means of the constitutional mechanisms which they had created themselves. Anti-Chávez politicians never understood that, since 1999, Venezuela has been in the grip of a despotic regime, which uses democracy in order to gain legitimacy, while being ready to discard it if it ever becomes inconvenient.
This is the same dictatorship and tyranny we have witnessed in Cuba for more than half a century, albeit with slightly different means.
Faced with a spineless opposition, the government has been free to implement its socialist policies for years. They have expropriated private enterprises in town and country. Other companies have been suffocated with absurd, needless regulations. The Chavistas have spent without qualms on “social programs” that barely conceal the purchase of votes. The consequence is boundless corruption.
The government has also manipulated the country’s dollar revenues while denying its citizens free access to foreign currency. Their rhetoric is threatening, their actions against political adversaries, violent.
No Time to Lose
After 17 years of socialism, Venezuelan industry is static, millions have left the country for good, infrastructure is in decay, and crime is rampant. Caracas is the world’s most violent city with 117 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants.
There is no reason to cheer for the impressive amount of signatures gathered so far in order to revoke Maduro’s mandate. Millions have signed in a few days, but the regime is not interested. Maduro and the Chavista movement’s upper echelons are willing to hold on to power, violently if necessary. They know very well that, if they are toppled, they can only await innumerable trials for corruption and human rights abuses.
Venezuela runs the risk of becoming a failed state in the coming months. The entire social fabric is in peril under the current political and economic crisis.
Now is the time. The opposition’s leadership can act now firmly and seriously, circumventing the Chavistas’ own legal mechanisms, or the country can vanish from the list of civilized nations.
There is no time to waste.